Driving games are often subcategorized between "arcade" and "simulation," without the mutual exclusivity of one or the other. This is evident in the fact that even the most ardent sim-head can find appreciation in a quality arcade racer. Midway's popular San Francisco Rush series turned heads as a coin-op with its over-the-top jumps and urban "Streets of San Francisco" car antics. Sure, it was low on realism, but it was still a blast to race your buddies after a few drinks at the pool hall. Last year, Midway's release of San Francisco Rush for the Nintendo 64 was a pleasant surprise to fans and newcomers alike. The home version compensated for its toned-down graphics with secret paths and enhanced stunts and jumping techniques not found in its arcade counterpart. It became an instant classic for fans of San Francisco Rush. Like most everything else catered to the post-Generation X demographic, Midway's latest entry in the Rush series is appropriately subtitled Extreme Racing USA. Unfortunately, the only thing extreme about Rush 2 is its penchant to be extremely mediocre. For all the refinements and additions to the game engine, Rush 2 just doesn't live up to expectations.
Modes of play in Rush 2 remain almost identical to last year's San Francisco Rush. You can choose to compete in a single race or choose circuit mode, which runs the gamut of courses. Two-player split-screen mode makes a return in the sequel and allows both players to race against four CPU drivers (who usually end up as fodder for some spectacular accident or moving obstacles). Courses can now be mirrored or reversed during single-race or two-player modes to prolong the challenge. In some cases (such as the revamped Alcatraz track), this feature actually makes a difference - but it can't seem to save the uninspired track designs from their bland conception. The practice mode allows you to spend as much time as you want on any given track to perfect lap times or look for shortcuts to the finish line. And of course, records can be saved or referred to at any time with a Nintendo Controller Pak. For players without a Controller Pak, Rush 2 provides a password feature to continue the 28-track circuit without having to restart every time.
The biggest contribution to Rush 2 is the split-screen two-player stunt mode. It manages to capture the essence of the Rush series without masking it under the pretense that the Rush engine was built for anything other than pulling off massive jumps and hang time. This mode takes place on a sparse, almost grid-like track filled with ramps, bumps, moguls, launchers, half-pipes, and more. In stunt mode, you race through the immense level launching your car in the air for stunts and tricks. You compete to score the most amount of points within a five-minute period. Flipping through the air, catching exorbitant amounts of hang time, or driving on two wheels all score a variety of points, depending on the difficulty of the stunt and whether you actually land the car upright. The stunt mode is addictive and fun; especially in two-player mode where you are scrambling to rack up points before the timer reaches zero. In the end, you will need to judge for yourself just how much depth is involved in the stunt mode. While some skill is required in actually pulling off stunts, most of the aerial frolicking is random since you have no control over how the car behaves in midflight. After playing through Rush 2, most will agree that its stunt mode is one of the game's only redeeming qualities. Rush 2's other game options include a wind setting, which affects hang time, as well as the difficulty in getting all four wheels back on the ground. Almost as a joke in bad taste against all other Nintendo 64 racers, Rush 2 has brought back the "fog" meter, which can increase or decrease your visibility on the tracks. Car selection and detailing has been greatly improved to the game's benefit. You can now choose from a wide variety of cars, each a slightly modified version of a vehicle in real life, as well as customize simplified components of the cars (for example, a slide bar chooses between acceleration or top speed). Altogether, there are more than 16 cars to choose from, with more to unlock as you progress through the game. Atari has made an extra effort to ensure that the car customization system plays an important role before each race. You are encouraged to switch from car to car, depending on the rigors of each track. On the gameplay and control side, Rush 2 feels a lot tighter than its predecessor, although with a Nintendo 64 analog stick, the controls are still far too sensitive to pull off any effective drifts. Additionally, quite a few of the new tracks in Rush 2 seem to emphasize racing rather than exploring, and this may come as a disappointment for all those who wanted bigger jumps and wackier routes.
While the quality of the graphics in Rush 2 haven't exactly gotten worse, they no longer stack up against those of other racers (even by 32-bit standards). Graphically, the game looks a lot like San Francisco Rush. Buildings and objects along the track are composed of simple cubes and boxes textured with windows and other low-resolution maps. The nine new track designs range from boring to slightly interesting, but everything seems to lack the aesthetic finesse that the game is so starved for. Most of the time, it feels as though you're driving through a beta-test copy of the game since there are numerous objects that populate the sides of tracks that appear to be untextured. The biggest improvement in graphics can be found on Rush 2's car models, which deform and change according to your location of impact. If you are willing to expand your notion of what makes for decent graphics on a driving game, then Rush 2's visuals should suffice. Again, most fans of the Rush series know what to expect in this department so any criticism here purely serves to disillusion the newcomer. In the area of music, notable improvements have been made. The awful soundtrack from last year's San Francisco Rush has mostly been replaced by techno tracks that range from house to drum and bass. If electronic music isn't your forte, you can always kill it in the options menu. Personally, some of the pregame screens have tracks that were nice and sonically interesting. In terms of sound effects, most of it comes recycled from the previous Rush. Engine sounds will differ from car to car so that a truck has a deeper hum than the whine of a VTEC subcompact (or so you can imagine). Generally speaking, the sound effects are competent but quite ordinary.
Atari seems to have taken the San Francisco Rush series and applied a small dash of realism with mixed results. While the ability to customize each vehicle in order to alter performance on a track is a welcomed feature, it does seem to distract from what the Rush series does best - jumping and exploring. Both graphics and sound in Rush 2 suffer from an acute case of mediocrity, but the controls have improved to highlight the game's new racing emphasis. Fans of San Francisco Rush will find the stunt mode to be a short-lived diversion, mainly due to the fact that stunts are performed ad hoc while players hope for the best as they flip through the air. Rush 2 attempts to embody the spirit of San Francisco Rush but fails to deliver as a sequel and a game.